The plans, due to be announced in the autumn, will not involve formal testing. Instead, teachers will mark their pupils against a check-list of what they do. For example, teachers will assess whether a child can look at a book and tell the story from memory, recognise letters or words, or read simple texts.
They will also examine whether pupils starting school can write their own names, order objects by size, or count objects accurately.
The "baseline assessment" could be used to compile league tables which would measure not only how each school's pupils did against the national average in tests at seven, 11 and 14 but also how far they had progressed.
There have been criticisms that raw test results do not take into account social differences and the tendency for children in middle-class areas to be much more advanced when they start school than those in deprived areas.
All children would take part in the scheme from September, 1998. At present, about half of all local authorities have some kind of tests at five to check on how advanced children are when they start school. These might have to be adapted to fit in with the new national scheme.
The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA), will consult teachers in the autumn on its plans. Legislation will be needed before the changes can be implemented, and this would not take place until after the next general election.
The Labour Party has been committed to the principle of testing children at five for some time and would be keen to implement the plans, along with a system of improvement targets for all schools.
Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, asked the SCAA in January to develop proposals for baseline assessment. In September the authority will publish three different models, all of which will give each child a numerical score.
The models will be piloted during a consultation period later in the year.
A spokesman for the SCAA said its aim was to work out a nationally consistent way of assessing what children can do when they enter primary education.
"First of all, this is so there is a possibility of working out some measure of the value added by a school between entry and the key stage one tests when children are seven.
"Second, it is to support teachers in assessing where children are and what teaching they will need during the first two years of schooling," he said.
The proposals will anger some teachers who believe that the assessments will not measure children's abilities accurately enough to be used for league tables.
However, others will prefer the idea of introducing value-added league tables to raw test results, saying that they will make some allowance for social differences.
Baseline assessment: a draft checklist
Reading. Can the child...
8 Hold a book appropriately, turn the pages and retell a story from memory?
8 Repeat some words of the text from memory?
8 Recognise letters by shape and sound?
8 Read familiar words in a range of contexts?
8 Read simple texts?
Writing. Can he
8 Write symbols and letters?
8 Write his or her own name using upper and lower case letters correctly?
8 Hear word sounds and write corresponding letters in sequence?
8 Attempt to write sentences?
8 Attempt to spell unfamiliar words?
Mathematics. Can the child...
8 Create patterns?
8 Order objects by size?
8 Match similar objects to one another?
8 Identify sequences?
8 Count objects accurately?
8 Recognise numbers?
8 Write numbers?
8 Add and subtract using objects?
8 Solve numerical problems using addition and subtraction?Reuse content